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Archive for November, 2006

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6
Nov

Japanese Addresses

Here is something else to be learned about Japan. Addresses are done a bit differently than they are in the United States. See, except for major roads, the streets of Japan are not named.

Instead, the 47 prefectures of Japan (think, states) are divided into cities and towns (Tokyo has 23), which are then subdivided into neighborhoods and blocks. I will use the address of my school as an example.

2-8-12 Minami Azabu, Minato-ku
Tokyo 106-0047, Japan

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6
Nov

Japanese Culture: Episode Five

Friday was another national holiday here in Japan: Bunka No Hi or Culture Day. Of course, culture day, along with a day off from classes, got me to think about Japanese culture, as I had explored it in my fifth episode, which premiered last week.

What is contemporary Japanese culture? What is any country’s culture? I’ve been here for nearly two months and seen a lot of Tokyo and surrounding cities. I’ve been to Kyoto in the south, Gunma and Nikko in the north. I’ve spoken to a sociologist who has lived in Tokyo for nearly two decades. I interviewed Donald Richie, who has lived in Japan for 60 years and has written 40 books on Japan. No one can really define the culture. It is too large and too diverse, not to mention the Japanese people do tend to take on styles from around the world. Especially here in Tokyo, there are so many contrasts.

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6
Nov

Disparity

There is disparity in this world. The English language and my position on this planet afford me the opportunity to refer to the largest-scale, globally encompassing, heart-wrenching, should-be-apoplectic, kick-you-in-the-balls obstruction in a tight, succinct six words. Polonius said that, “brevity is the soul of wit,” but in a civilization of complexity, the terse can be irresponsible at best, incendiary at its most violent worst.

I went to a bar with some American friends one night a few days ago. Down a few flights of stairs, below the well-trafficked streets of Shibuya, an entertainment district in Central Tokyo, I stuffed myself in a booth with four guys and slowly sipped a beer as I told dirty jokes and ate complimentary popcorn. In time they coaxed a few Japanese girls to our table, and soon our party had ballooned to nearly twenty.

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5
Nov

Teaching English

Offered the option by an administrator at my university, I hopped on a bus and taught at an English camp in the rural Gunma Prefecture for a weekend.

It was fun to interact, teach and eat with high school kids, most of whom did not speak English well but were required to only do so this weekend. I was chosen, among others, specifically because our Japanese wasn’t particularly strong. It was tough and frustrating for some of the kids but certainly got the point across.

Secretly, during breaks, I did use it as an opportunity to push my Japanese.

We bonded some and laughed a lot. Like others, I led specific lessons and groups of 10 or so rotated through this massive lodge-like space, atop a peak amid a massive, wilderness of fall colors around us.

Like any culture, they were teenagers feeling out what kind of people they are, and we were slightly older young adults, who happened to also be foreign and American, so there was an awe. This was one of the simpler, yet  more transformative and likely memorable experiences.

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1
Nov

A Ragged Steno Pad

I used to have a forty-minute bus ride from my apartment here in the Jiyugaoka section of the Meguro ward of Tokyo to my classes in Minato-ku, Tokyo. During that time I took to writing in a ragged steno pad that serves as notebook, journal, draft and drawing pad for me.

I traded that sitting time for physically and visually exercising time, as readers familiar with my bicycling will know, but the habit finds a place even so. It is a habit familiar to any travel, any experience, to any period of my life.

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